A Look Ahead for Gamecocks Men’s Basketball


When time ran out in the Quarterfinal loss to Georgia, a fun and exciting three day run at the SEC Basketball tournament in Nashville, and the season as a whole,  had ended for Coach Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.  Despite a late season push that saw the program end with an above .500 record for the first time in 5 seasons, there was no postseason awaiting South Carolina.  The 2014-15 season was a roller coaster for the Gamecock program, and while no one is doing back flips over a 17-16 record, the steady improvement in each of Coach Martin’s first three seasons has to be noted.  Last year was highlighted by a stretch of games that included back to back home blowouts over Oklahoma St and rival Clemson, followed by a close neutral site win over then #9 Iowa St. Unfortunately, an all too familiar slow start to SEC play derailed what was looking like a promising season.  A handful of close losses and late blown leads led to the disappointing SEC record, but the team came together late in the year to finish by winning 6 of their final 9 games to end the year with a winning record.

Going into Coach Martin’s 4th season in charge in Columbia, there will be a tempered excitement, with lots of things changing, within the team and around the SEC.  First let’s take a look at what will remain the same, the players returning to the squad. 

Leadership should be in abundance in the upcoming season, with Coach Martin having his first real senior class here, manning the post positions, plus a pair of talented juniors in his backcourt.  With Mike Carrera and the two Lithuanian big men, Kacinas and Chatkevicius, the front court will be solid as the first three recruits of the Frank Martin era head in to their final years in Columbia.  All three have had ups and downs during their time here, but have shown steady improvement and will be looked at to anchor things in the paint.  Carerra was a big part of the end of the year push by the Gamecocks, averaging double figures in scoring over the final 10 games after struggling on offense early in the year.  In the backcourt, Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice return as the team’s two leading scorers from a year ago.  Notice, a junior from Canada, had a streaky shooting year, but also ended the year strong and led the team with 11.7 ppg and 36% shooting from three.  Thornwell, arguably the South Carolina’s most talented player, had an abysmal year shooting the ball, but his defense, rebounding, and ball handling were all very good.  The hope is he will return to his freshman form in terms of his shooting numbers, when he was around 45% from the field and averaged nearly 18 points per game in SEC play.  Also returning will be sophomore point guard Marcus Stroman, who showed flashes as a freshman before an illness altered the path of his first year, and junior guard Justin Mckie, who has provided some good shooting on occasion when his defensive effort has been good enough to get him on the floor.

Next, let’s take a look at what will be gone from last year’s team, with three players from this past season now moving on from the Gamecocks.  Ty Johnson finished his senior year strong, starting all 33 games at point guard, and like the rest of the team, picked up his play over the last few weeks of the season.  His leadership, aggressiveness, and ball handling will be missed, but luckily those are areas where South Carolina should be well equipped to replace his contributions.  Forwards Demetrius Henry and Shameik Sheppard are also gone from last year’s team, both having been suspended in February for violating team rules, and now they will pursue their college careers elsewhere.

With three players leaving the program, it ultimately leaves room for new players in Coluumbia.  The Gamecocks will bring in a five man freshman class, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American, and USC legacy, P.J. Dozier.  Rated a four star prospect and a top 30 player in the country by most recruiting services, the 6’6” versatile guard will likely step in to a starting role early in his South Carolina career.  His combination of shooting, size, and ball handling made him a coveted recruit, choosing Carolina over national power Louisville.  This variety of skills will allow him to help at multiple positons, ranging from small forward to point guard.  Fellow four-star Chris Silva, a 6’8” forward from New York, will provide an immediate upgrade in an area of desperate need for Frank Martin’s team, athleticism.  Silva is known as a high riser and a finisher arose d the rim, something that the South Carolina basketball program has lacked for a long while.  The rest of the class is filled with three-star prospects that will be looked at to provide depth coming off the bench.  Jamal Gregory is a 6’4” wing player that chose USC over Maryland, and should also help upgrade the athleticism of the team.  The final two recruits that Coach Martin picked up were from a pair of big men in 6’9” Eric Cobb and 6’10 Travon Bunch, who will be looked at to provide much need size and strength behind the two senior Lithuanians.  Projecting what a freshman class can bring to a team is always a tricky proposition, but it appears that alongside a potential star in P.J. Dozier, the Gamecocks have added both size and athleticism that they sorely lacked the last few years.

The scheduled is not finalized yet, but a few matchups in the non-conference have been set.  South Carolina was one of four teams left out of the annual SEC/Big 12 challenge after playing Oklahoma State each of the past two years.  Along with the rivalry game with the Clemson Tigers in Greenville, USC added a home game with Memphis to help bolster its strength of schedule.  They will also participate in the Paradise Jam tournament in late November, opening up with Depaul from the Big East.  The SEC slate has not been finalized either, but with four teams; Miss St, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama, all having changed coaches, the make up of the league will certainly be in flux.  With a large portion of its scoring and rebounding returning from last year’s team, plus the addition of five newcomers, South Carolina will look to take another step in the right direction, and earn their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004.